Online age verification: a new era

profile picture Yoti 7 min read
Group of teenagers using their phones safely after completing online age verification

For years, businesses delivering age-restricted services online have gotten away with hiding behind a tick box. But it seems that governments are waking up to the dangers caused by exposing minors to age-restricted content. New legislation is starting to enforce more stringent online age verification for social media , dating, gaming and adult content sites.

But what does this mean for the operators of those sites? How do they verify a user’s age without adding friction to their carefully crafted user experience? In a world where 40% of users are said to abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load, how do you stay competitive and protect your users with proper age-gating?


How have businesses done online age verification in the past?

The Age Verification Providers Association (AVPA) said it best: “Age verification requires more than just checking a box or even typing in your date of birth to claim you are old enough to access an online service.” And up until recently, these methods of online age verification were standard practice. Then, credit card verification and electoral roll checks came along to add an extra layer of assurance for businesses. 

However, these checks were still easy to bypass. Children could still access content that is considered harmful – and adults were still able to enter spaces designed for children. There was a clear need for change and more sophisticated technology.


New ways to age gate your website

The most common way businesses digitally age check their customers nowadays is by asking them to upload an ID document and capture a selfie. Optical character recognition (OCR) is used to extract the data and face match technology matches their real-time selfie with their document photo.

More advanced providers can offer a higher level of age assurance with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. This instantly verifies an ePassport to the same high level as in the airport.

The biggest breakthrough in age tech, though, is facial age estimation. This determines a person’s age by analysing their face from a live or uploaded image. It uses a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning. This is one of the only methods that doesn’t require you to have a document to hand, like a passport or credit card. And, it’s also completely anonymous.

Learn more about how we have helped Instagram provide new ways to verify age.


Personalised age checks

At Yoti, we’ve developed an array of sophisticated methods that let businesses gain the right level of assurance that someone is the appropriate age to be accessing your services, which varies across industries. Being able to customise the way they do online age verification ensures they are hitting the right sweet spot between assurance and friction.

This could range from an estimated age based on a real-time selfie or a verified date-of-birth from an ID document. Once the age check is complete, we share an Over or Under age and delete all data captured during the process.

Whether your priority is speed, age assurance or accessibility, you can pick and choose the tools that work best for you and your users.


Age assurance tools

  • Facial age estimation: Your users just have to look at the camera on their device and take a selfie. Our world-class technology will calculate an estimated age based on facial features within a year or two accuracy.
  • Yoti app: With over 10 million Yoti app downloads, you could make the most of the existing network of users that have already verified their age with us by uploading their ID document. They just scan a QR code on your website and prove they’re over your age threshold using their phone. 
  • ID verification: Your users can prove their age by scanning their ID documents and taking a biometric selfie on their device. We use leading AI and NFC technology to verify the user and their ID document, with our identity experts on standby for when your users take scans or selfies that need a trained human eye. For example, if they take a selfie in a dark room. 
  • Credit card check: You users input their credit card details, and we do an active card check to make sure it’s valid.
  • Database check: We verify your users’ name, date of birth and address against a database.
  • Mobile provider check: We verify your customer is over 18 using their mobile provider details.


Why we designed it that way

One of our seven ethical principles is to enable privacy and anonymity, so being GDPR-aligned is as important to us as it is to you and your business. We built our age verification with Privacy by Design to empower your users to keep their data safe and private.

We also limit the amount of data your users need to share with you and with us. And the individual data we do have – such as date of birth or full name – is securely encrypted and held separately. Once we share with you whether your users are over or under your threshold, we instantly delete their data. This way, your users can prove their age whilst remaining entirely anonymous. When their age is shared, you will only know if they pass the threshold you have set out. For example, if you only want over 18s to access your site, that’s all you’ll know when users complete an age check.

We also only use first-party cookies when helping people prove their age. This way, businesses can be confident that they can verify their users’ age without invasive privacy practices.


Future-proof your business against new legislation

As digital spaces develop, online businesses will need to have measures in place to protect themselves from legislation that could impact their operations.

A UK Government white paper published in 2020 called for companies to start developing and sharing technological solutions to help protect children from online harms, rather than complying with minimum requirements. So, over the next few years, we expect a number of legal frameworks will disrupt online services that are used by children.

The newest set of standards have been set out by the ICO in the Age Appropriate Design Code (the Code), which came into effect on 2nd September 2021. It is one legal framework that aims to create a safe digital space for children. We are working hard to ensure that we comply with the Code, but also we want to encourage other companies to start taking measures to help protect the children who use their services. 

The International Organization of Standardization (ISO) is also drafting their own Age Assurance Systems Standards, so no matter where you do business, it may be time to age-gate certain parts of your website. In any case, we want to empower you to do the safest thing for your users, especially children.

If you would like to learn more about how your business can benefit from the newest age verification technology, get in touch with us today.